How do I run an internal marketing focus group (e.g. a sector group)?

Posted on: December 21, 2006

So, you have been asked to chair an internal committee or steering group in charge of marketing for a particular aspect of the firm – it could be for a specific market sector (e.g. owner managed businesses, media companies), a geographical region (e.g. The Midlands, Thames Valley) or it could be for a service or skill set (e.g. corporate finance, employment). This short FAQ provides some guidance and thoughts on how to get the group up and running as quickly as possible.

Terms of reference for the team

Strategic issues

What are the terms of reference of the group? What is it expected to achieve and in what time scale? Who will it report to and on what basis? How will its effectiveness be measured?

It may be that the group is to assess an opportunity to decide whether it is to be pursued.

It may be that it is tasked with undertaking a detailed analysis of a market or problem and proposing some recommended actions or developing a marketing plan. It may be that the group needs to create a centralised source of all the relevant information and to help develop or design new products and services. Or it may simply be to generate more business from a particular group of clients or for a particular type of work. In a situation where the terms of reference are unclear, an important first task will be to understand the expectations and agree what will (and won’t) be tackled. Scoping, setting boundaries and managing expectations are early priorities.

The group’s work will need to be aligned with the broader strategic aims of the firm and have support from senior management if it is to be successful.

Operational issues

What resources (both cash and time) have been allocated to the group? Who is responsible for setting agendas, chairing and taking minutes? Where will meetings take place and how often? Do all members need to be present for all meetings? Will members’ time spent at meetings or involved in the group be logged against a particular cost centre?

Team membership

Have the members of the group already been selected? Were they volunteers or were they nominated? Do they have the necessary skills, experience and influence? Do they share equal interest in the success of the group? What motivates them to play an active part in the group? What reward or recognition will they receive for being members?

Who is the overall champion? And does this champion have sufficient authority and respect to get the resources and co-operation that is needed? Does the champion have the support both of the firm’s managing committee/board, of the members and of the wider audience within the firm? To co-opt members with particular skills to tackle some tasks?

Do the members represent all the relevant groups, offices and departments that need to be represented? Are members only partners or are others involved as well? Is there value in having members of the support team involved (e.g. IT, finance etc). Is there flexibility to change the membership?

Might it be helpful to rotate some of the members of the group to ensure more people are involved and to bring in fresh ideas? Might it be possible to invite external people (e.g. industry experts, warm clients, key referrers etc) to join the group for particular meetings or to provide presentations on key topics? It may take some time for the team to start performing and there are posts on effective team management.  

Internal communications

Is everyone in the firm aware of what the group is to achieve and do? To what extent will you be reliant on the input and support of those who are not in the group? How often will you report back to the rest of the firm on the progress, activities and successes of the group?

Perhaps you need to allocate a particular area of the intranet to post up dates of meetings, minutes, action plans and other information and plans that are created. Alternatively, you may issue regular email updates to people or provide short reviews at firm wide, office or departmental meetings.

Here is more on internal communications.

First meeting

This is a good time for all the members to discuss the agreed terms of reference for the group and for them to indicate any additional points or issues that they wish to raise. It is important that the aims of the group are clear and agreed. If there is a need for members to take specific responsibility for different things then these roles should be allocated – or they may be rotated. Whilst it is important for everyone to have an opportunity to express their views, protect against it being just a talking (or moaning) session. Document the points raised, indicate what solutions or actions may be appropriate (and by when) and move the discussion on.

Getting started – where are we now?

The first stage in a strategic review is to undertake an audit to assess the current situation. Read more about marketing planning and marketing audits.

This will require research and information gathering both from the firm’s internal systems, other members of the firm and from the external market.

Often, groups will find that the firm’s systems do not provide sufficiently detailed information or information in the right format for it to properly understand the situation. In this case, there will need to be a preliminary fact-finding project to find ways to collect the information manually and/or to adapt the firm’s systems to obtain the information in the future. This can take a significant amount of time.

Typically, this research phase will require much communication with others in the firm to determine the firm’s and each individual’s past experience and work in the relevant sector or market or specialist area. Time will need to be invested in developing case studies, client lists and the CVs of the key individuals. In effect, much of this information will be summarised into a client focused credentials document.

It may possibly also involve the scanning of relevant media, Internet research, specialist research amongst the appropriate professional, trade/technical and business publications. It may require the purchase of externally produced market or research reports. It might even require research into the views, perceptions, needs and current approaches adopted by the market or existing or potential clients.

If there is insufficient knowledge of the market then it may be that a significant task for the group is to identify and obtain the information that is required. This may take some time to achieve in which case the initial terms of reference and aims for the group will need to be modified. Sometimes, the research that is undertaken to support the group’s activities can be used in an issues based public relations campaign that can position the firm as thought-leaders in the area and as a platform for seminars and publicity. There are further posts on thought leadership campaigns here 

A key element of this stage will be to obtain benchmarks and develop objectives against which the progress of the group can be measured over time.

Setting goals and objectives – Where do we want to be?

The structured analysis of the present position should identify the various ways in which the group can produce results and this will enable a series of objectives to be set. In many cases, there will be little likelihood of generating short term results so there is a need for plans and measures of activity/process in the short term to generate results in the medium/longer term.

Developing a strategy – How will we get there?

Different members of the group will have different ideas and priorities (and abilities) that predispose them to suggest different strategies. For example, those who typically use networking will want to deploy these skills and tackle the situation in a way that is familiar to them whereas those who are experienced speakers might wish to focus on seminars.

It is important that everyone has a chance to suggest different options for how the objectives might be achieved. However, the nature of the market and/or your firm’s position in that market and the resources/time available to you will act as a constraint and may indicate that particular strategies are more likely to be successful than others.

You may need input from a marketing expert to help consider the strategies for a) raising your profile in the media and the market b) developing or packaging particular services or products (which may involve pricing decisions and/or technological solutions for information sharing or developing new processes) c) developing more work from your existing clients d) developing referrer relationships in a more focused and consistent way or e) generating new client/business development opportunities.

A critical issue at this stage is to select just one or two key programmes that will deliver results. Many groups suffer from trying to do too much (everything) and spreading itself too thinly and becoming ineffective as a result.

From marketing planning to business development

Once the analysis and marketing planning stage is complete, and implementation has begun so that the profile is raised and opportunities to meet with potential clients and referrers have been generated the work of the group will need to move from marketing to business development and sales conversion.

This may require different skills and a different way of operating as the emphasis will be on nurturing relationships and converting enquiries, interests and opportunities into clients.

Check progress regularly

It is important that progress (and results) are assessed regularly so that you can ensure you do not get bogged down in the detail or sent off on a wrong tangent. Also, you should review what has been done and achieved in addition to what remains to be done – as an ever growing list of actions can be very de-motivating.

Furthermore, there is likely to be a lot of time spent in developing a plan and it may be that a different group is required to assist in the implementation of that plan. It could be the time for a change in emphasis of the group and/or a change in membership.

Remember too that most groups have a finite life cycle. Once they have done the task that is allocated to them they should be formally closed down – this avoids the sad situation of a formerly highly active and effective group simply losing momentum and “running out of steam”. It might also be a good time to consider how the group’s work becomes embedded into the usual structure, working practices and culture of the firm. Although some market sector groups become formalised and drive structural change in the business.

The FAQ on business and marketing planning and those on research may also be useful to those running internal focus groups.

 

I do not restrict access to the FAQs but I politely request that you let me know by email and acknowledge the source (www.kimtasso.com) if you wish to use the material anywhere.

As always, if there are particular topics you would like me to address in the future, please let me know. You will also find a source of more and up to date information on a broad range of management and marketing issues in the professions by checking out the blog where I also post regular reviews of books that might be helpful.

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